How to grow Oriental Vegetables
Oriental Vegetables Growing Guide
Anyone who has had the pleasure of travelling to countries such as Japan or China will appreciate the bewildering but totally delicious array of vegetables on offer there. A plethora of differently shaped, textured and coloured Oriental leaves brings Eastern cuisine alive. No wonder the Japanese have no problem reaching their official recommended intake of not merely five, but 17 portions of fruit and veg per day!
While us Brits share a similar climate to parts of the Orient, we’re perhaps less inclined to enjoy such a varied diet of fresh produce. This is a huge shame but is slowly changing for the better. Inquisitive palates and a thirst for new culture have seen Oriental food take off over recent years. However, while there’s no shortage of tempting recipes to try out, sourcing the many vegetables and salads required can prove a challenge – unless you grow them yourself.
Oriental vegetables not only consist of the now commonplace pak choi and Chinese cabbage, but incorporate a wide range of crunchy and nutritious greens such as Chinese broccoli, peppery mizuna, chopsuey greens (an edible type of chrysanthemum), komatsuna (a spinach-like leaf), hot mustards and just about anything in between. The home grower looking to expand his or her repertoire will relish the chance to discover this wonderful family of vegetables. Start experimenting with flavours by sowing a few varieties today; and you can keep on picking right through autumn and into winter
Growing Oriental Vegetables month-by-month
Keep plants on the dry side to prevent roots from freezing solid when temperatures plunge. Even in winter a few harvests may be possible, though growth will be reduced.
By the end of February growth of overwintering varieties should be picking up and the numbers of leaves taken can increase.
Prepare the soil now for the first sowings of Oriental leaves. Varieties less prone to bolting may be sown in spring for a summer crop.
Keep on spring-sowing Oriental vegetables. Sow little and often to avoid a sudden glut of leaves and remember to pinch out any flower stems that appear.
Flea beetle may become a nuisance this month. Cover over vulnerable plants with horticultural fleece to keep the beetles at bay.
Keep plants protected from flea beetle and water copiously in dry weather to prevent them from bolting.
You can start to sow many Oriental vegetables now that days are becoming shorter and the weather is beginning to cool off from its midsummer peak. Start seeds off in prepared beds.
Sow the final batches of Oriental leaves while there is still some warmth in the soil. Thin out seedlings to their final spacings in stages.
Keep on cropping tasty leaves as they become available. Cover over-wintering plants with cloches to keep them warmer and stop the soil from water logging.
Mild autumns should see cropping continue apace. Always harvest the leaves of cut-andcome- again vegetables from the outside.
Over-wintering crops will slow right down as light levels drop and cold temperatures begin to bite. Pick off damaged leaves.
Caring for your Oriental Vegetables plants + problems
Oriental vegetables are well-known for their fast growth, making the kitchen gardener’s job substantially easier. Keep the plants growing steadily by watering in dry weather, and hoe off any weeds that appear to reduce competition for your crop. You’ll need to keep an eye out for the most common pests, but vegetables grown in late summer and autumn will at least be free of the main rush of insects such as flea beetle, which so often attack earlier on in the season.
Pick off any of the older leaves that turn yellow or become infected with brown blotches of fungi. Regular sowings mean that as old plants become less productive or finally bolt, there will always be something to replace them.
Chinese cabbages can sometimes appreciate a helping hand to get their dense, white hearts to form. Should the leaves show little sign of filling out, simply lift up the outer leaves and tie them together to form a loose head of cabbage. The interior leaves should bulk out the heart within a few weeks.
Many hardy varieties of Oriental veg grown from a September sowing will sit through much of the autumn and can be overwintered. If you plan to see them through the colder months, position cloches over the rows as soon as the weather turns cool and wet. Later sowings will grow stronger if they are sown into cold frames or kept under cover in a greenhouse.
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How to harvest Oriental Vegetables
Oriental leaves can be split into two camps for harvesting: those that are cut in one go for their complete head or rosette of leaves, and those that are removed one leaf at a time as needed (these include the cut-and-come-again mixes of leaves).
Cut-and-come-again vegetables such as mizuna and mustard greens can be harvested as soon as the leaves are large enough to use. Snip near to the base of the plant, taking care not to damage the central crown. Use a sharp knife to ensure a clean cut and always take leaves from the edge of the plant to encourage the smaller central leaves to grow on for a second, or even third crop.
Pak choi can be enjoyed in stages. The thinnings may be used in salads and the mature plants left to grow on for cutting whole and enjoying in stir-fries or as steamed greens. Chinese cabbage, too, should be taken as soon as the head has filled out.